The Prince of Egypt (1998)
On Second Thought - Feature Review
When I was younger, I didn't think much of The Prince of Egypt. It was an interesting adventure and one that spoke to a lot of the religious doctrine I was learning in school. I think because I heard retellings of the tale in The Bible, I couldn't appreciate the movie for what it was, rather only leaning on the weak comparison I could conjure as a child. I just thought it was a fun retelling of Exodus. For that reason it escaped my vision to rewatch.
I rewatched it this year, and oh my god, how could I have not watched this over and over again. I don't have a Top 10 of Animated movies, but if I did, Prince of Egypt would be in there, no doubt. Probably in the Top 5. I can't stress this enough when I say The Prince of Egypt is a masterpiece. Directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells, produced for Dreamworks Animation as they geared up their battle against Disney's stumbling Renaissance.
From the moment the movie beings and we are punched with visions of slaves struggling to hold up the towering legacy of the Pharaohs, punctuated by choruses of "Deliver Us". The tone of the movie is set right there, and it never waivers. Then it builds into the killing of the Hebrew children. I mean its dark right from the beginning, it doesn't hold back the punches.
There's a beautiful metaphor build into the visual language here, and an apt comparison between the Hebrew Slaves and Rameses. How they are often framed is in subjugation to that legacy, with these giant heads towering over them. You can literally feel the weight on their shoulders. Especially since Rameses lives with the belief that he needs to be the next link in a chain of Pharaohs. Visually, the team at Dreamworks created a depth and scale I've never felt before, or since in an animated movie.
I particularly love how the Plagues are portrayed along with a a chorus of people chanting verses "I send the pestilence and plague into your house, into your bed, into your streams, into your streets, into your drink, into your bread". The power of the words like "I sent my scourge, I sent my sword" give me chills as you realise the power reigning down on the Egyptians. But behind all that is a story of two brothers forced onto opposite sides of a conflict. With all that love, it transforms a myriad of hatred from Rameses and deep sadness for Moses.
I often think about the concept of what an "epic" means when it comes to cinema. Usually I come back to a few base factors, including the scale of the movie itself, and the length of the story. But these aren't prudent measurements. One thing I do know for sure, The Prince of Egypt is one of the few feature animated epics. The only other one I can think of is Princess Mononoke.
I think an Epic, in it's truest sense, is able to show these earth changing events, yet focus on the smallest and simplest of conflicts. Here is where The Prince of Egypt really shines. How the story focuses on Moses and Rameses without getting too lost in the myriad of other characters and events, is really marvellous. If you've never seen The Prince of Egypt, I would urge you to seek it out, switch off your phone, draw the curtains and turn your speakers up. Give it the attention it deserves and it won't disappoint.